Jeff Brandes Archives - Page 2 of 41 - Florida Politics

The case against Rick Baker running for St. Petersburg mayor

As coy as he has been with the local media and as busy as he is promoting the Rowdies referendum, Rick Baker is almost certain to run for St. Petersburg mayor this year.

Last week, Baker was in Tallahassee for a series of not-exactly-clandestine meetings with top Republican donors like Brian Ballard and Nick Iarossi.

Baker’s biggest cheerleader in the capital, state Sen. Jeff Brandes, set up the meetings.

Baker does not particularly enjoy fundraising; At least not as much as his fellow St. Petersburg office-bearer, Charlie Crist. It’s not that he can’t or won’t make the ask, it’s just that he believes — rightly so — that he probably has better things with his time.

So, for Baker to shake his tin can in Tallahassee, it’s the surest sign yet that he plans on challenging incumbent Rick Kriseman.

If polling is to be believed — and St. Pete Polls has a near-bulletproof record surveying St. Petersburg voters — Baker would actually start as a favorite against Kriseman.

Despite all the hullabaloo over the city’s sewage system crisis, as well as a lack of genuine, visible progress on big-ticket items like a new St. Petersburg Pier or a new home for the Tampa Bay Rays, Kriseman is popular with city voters.

Were anyone other than Baker to challenge Kriseman — from popular Republicans like Brandes to City Council veterans like Amy Foster or Darden Rice — the mayor would dispatch them easily.

But, head-to-head, Baker trumps Kriseman.

In other words, Kriseman is a popular mayor; Baker just happens to be a more popular former mayor.

Three times out of five, Baker beats Kriseman. Which means it’s not a lock that Baker will beat Kriseman in November. In fact, one can make a pretty compelling case for how Baker might lose to Kriseman.

Here are 10 reasons why Baker might not want to run against Kriseman.

Demographics  

St. Pete is an increasingly progressive city, substantially more so than when Baker was re-elected in 2005. St. Pete’s gay community is more visible and more influential than 12 years ago. And if there’s one cohort Baker is cross-wired with, it’s Team Pride. While in office, he refused to sign a proclamation celebrating Florida’s biggest Gay Pride festival — a symbolic non-gesture that many of the city’s LGBT leaders and residents have not forgotten. These folks may already be against Baker’s Republican politics, just as they were against Bill Foster‘s. But Baker’s candidacy may galvanize the gay community in a way no other candidate would.

Demographics — Part 2

When Baker won re-election in 2005, he won every single precinct in the city. That means precincts where blacks are in the majority — no easy feat for a Republican running against an opponent who would become chair of the Pinellas Democratic Party. Black voters also functioned as the deciding vote bloc for Baker in 2001 and for Foster in 2009 (both men defeated Kathleen Ford). Baker prides himself on his relationship with the black community. Remember, this is the policy wonk who won national acclaim for his vision of a “seamless city.” But will the black vote, in this era of Donald Trump, embrace Baker over a Democratic elected official who will likely be endorsed by most major African-American leaders? Even with Goliath Davis and Deveron Gibbons as his chief surrogates, it’s difficult to envision Baker winning the black vote at the same clip he did in his first two elections.

Lessons from Jeb

In the parlance of Game of Thrones, Baker is a loyal bannerman to House Jeb. So many Republican pols admire Baker, it’s sometimes difficult to imagine him having to look up to anyone. But Jeb Bush is one of those people. Had Bush won his bid for The White House, it’s very likely Baker would be Secretary of Something right now. Obviously, that was not the case and in Jeb’s humiliating defeat — “Please clap” — there’s a cautionary tale for Baker. Bush was out of office for so long, and the political environment had shifted so much, that he was caught flat-footed by the new rules of engagement. What will Baker do when an anonymous negative website about him inevitably pops up? What will Baker’s strategy for Facebook and Twitter be? Will he be caught on video saying something honest, but politically damaging? How will he interact with the Tom Rasks and David McKalips of the mayoral campaign? There are so many possible landmines out there for anyone running for office that it can be a challenge for even a savvy operator like Baker. He can ask his friend Jeb about that.

The Times will not be with him

Baker’s never been the Tampa Bay Times’ favorite local Republican (that would be Jack Latvala), but rarely has he been in its crosshairs. The local newspaper probably doesn’t have the desire or the horses to make Baker one of its “projects,” but it’s not going to be on his side — as it was in his races against Ford and Ed Helm — either. At the end of the day, the newspaper really likes Kriseman, even if it’s aware of his shortcomings. But his politics matches its and Baker’s apparently do not, so expect the editorial page (sans Baker ally Joni James) to weigh in again and again about how Baker had his time, and the city needs to move forward with Kriseman and blah, blah, blah. Also, the Tampa Bay Times may want to make up for this.

The Bill Edwards conundrum

One day, residents of St. Petersburg may look at a statute of Bill Edwards that memorialized his many, many contributions to the prosperity of the city. Or maybe not. It very much depends on the outcome of an ongoing federal lawsuit lodged by two whistle-blowers accused Edwards of looting millions from his defunct mortgage company. According to Charlie Frago of the Tampa Bay Times, Baker was uncertain about Edwards’ situation, especially as it relates to the Edwards-Baker effort to attract a Major League Soccer team to the city. Questions about Edwards’ future and Baker’s work for The Edwards Group could be an issue on the campaign trail. Remember, Kriseman made Foster’s remote connections to Edwards an issue during the 2013 race.

Rick being Rick

As smart and successful as Baker has been throughout his career, now and then he makes a decision that even his most ardent defenders (like me) can’t explain. After all, Baker did endorse Herman Cain for President in 2011Kriseman is already making hay about Baker’s politics

Baker is not running against a tomato can.

Not hardly — Some might say Baker has been very lucky with who he’s had to run against in his previous campaigns. Ford, well, is Kathleen Ford, the ultimate femme fatale candidate who, despite her tenacity, was never going to win over a majority of supporters. Helm, well, is Ed Helm, who, despite his sheer intelligence, could not get out of his own way for long enough to build a winning coalition. While Ford, Helm, and Kriseman are all Democrats, Kriseman is nothing like Ford or Helm. He’s already proven he can build a winning coalition of city progressives, minorities, residents from the west part of the city, young voters, and the upscale urban liberals of northeast St. Pete. He has a loyal veteran campaign team and a base of donors and supporters already hard at work. Kriseman’s camp is not taking the prospect of a Baker challenge lightly; that’s why it has been raising money hand-over-fist in what is expected to be St. Pete’s most expensive campaign ever.

Duh! Kriseman is the incumbent

Even Captain Obvious recognizes there are many advantages to being the incumbent in a local race. For example, Kriseman recently won the endorsement of the police union, an organization which went with Foster in 2009. Why? Because Kriseman is committed to building a new headquarters for the St. Pete Police Department. Will rank-and-file cops turn out for Kriseman? That remains to be seen, but advantages like this are the kind of default support an incumbent receives. He gets to be on the city’s TV channel, shows up at ribbon-cuttings, be in the newspaper and on TV any day he wants. Kriseman will be careful about doing so, but all the city’s resources are at his disposal.

Kriseman knows how to throw a punch. Does Baker know what it’s like to be hit?

To quote Mike Tyson, everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth. Kriseman knows how to throw a punch; his campaign will not hesitate to use any and all lines of attacks against Baker. In the end, Kriseman’s campaign and its allies will throw the kitchen sink at Baker, who, while no stranger from the spotlight, hasn’t had a negative mailer written about him in 12 years. He hasn’t been the star of a grainy, black-and-white television attack ad. He hasn’t had his name dragged through the mud just for the sake of doing that. How will he react? How will Baker counterpunch? The answer to these questions may be the most fascinating thing to watch during the campaign.

Does Baker really want to be Mayor again?

I think if Rick Baker had his druthers, he’d strap on his guitar and tour the state talking about his soon-to-be-released book and how there is a third way for polarized state politics. He’d speak of a “seamless state” and how Republicans can be both tough on crime and strong on the environment. Or be president of an expansion Major League Soccer team. But I’m not 100 percent sure he wants to be Mayor of St. Petersburg for the next eight years — who would run against him in 2021? Sure, Dick Greco had a successful second act as Tampa’s mayor, but by the end of his career, Greco was sadly out of touch with the community he loved so much and once loved him.

Nothing in politics would cause Baker more heartache than for him to lose the respect of his neighbors and fellow residents.

Bill to regulate Uber, Lyft headed to Senate floor

A bill that would create a regulatory framework for transportation network companies in Florida cleared the Senate Rules Committee, teeing it up for a vote in the full Senate within the coming days.

Sponsored by Sen. Jeff Brandes, the bill (SB 340) would require Uber and Lyft to carry $100,000 of insurance for bodily injury or death and $25,000 for property damage while a driver is logged onto their app but hasn’t secured a passenger. While a rider is in the vehicle, they are required to have $1 million worth of coverage.

The proposal also calls on companies to have third parties conduct local and national background checks on drivers.

“Today’s vote signals a major milestone in the effort to ensure every Florida resident and visitor has access to ride-sharing,” said Stephanie Smith, the senior manager for public policy at Uber Technologies, in a statement. “At Uber, we are focused on connecting people and communities, increasing mobility, and this vote brings us one step closer to achieving this.

The bill cleared the committee on a 10-1 vote. It now heads to the Senate floor.

This legislation will give Florida’s residents and visitors easy access to an affordable and reliable transportation option, ultimately providing the state with increased economic opportunity,” said Chelsea Harrison, the senior policy communications manager for Lyft, in a statement. “We look forward to passage by the full Senate.”

A similar bill (HB 221), sponsored by Reps. Chris Sprowls and Jamie Grant, unanimously passed the House Wednesday.

Delivery drone bill unanamously passes House

Legislation that would allow so-called “delivery drones” to operate in Florida passed unanimously in the House Wednesday, 115-0.

The proposal, sponsored by Pace Republican Jayer Williamson (HB 601), focuses on ground drones, or “personal delivery devices.” Such a unit is defined as a “motorized device for use primarily on sidewalks and crosswalks at a maximum speed of 10 miles per hour, which weighs 50 pounds or less excluding cargo.”

These drones operate with electric engine tops out at 4 mph and ride exclusively on sidewalks and crosswalks. It would specialize in urban areas.

Companion legislation in the Senate is sponsored by St. Petersburg Republican Jeff Brandes (SB 460). That bill has passed through two committees, with its next stop in the Rules Committee.

“We think that it would allow consumers choice and provide some really interesting delivery options,” Brandes says.

Ride-sharing legislation speeds ahead in Florida House

A bill that would create the first statewide law regulating ride-sharing companies passed unanimously in the Florida House on Wednesday, 115-0.

Now it moves to the Senate.

It’s the second straight year that such a bill has passed in the Florida House, but the chances of it getting through the Senate are considered much greater than in 2016.

The legislation, sponsored by Palm Harbor Republican Chris Sprowls and Tampa Republican Jamie Grant (HB 221) requires ride-sharing companies to have third-parties conduct local and national criminal background checks on drivers.

It would also prohibit from becoming ride-share drivers if they have three moving violations in the prior 3-year period; have been convicted of a felony within the previous five years; or have been convicted of a misdemeanor charge of sexual assault, driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol, hit and run, or attempting to flee a law enforcement officer within the past five years.

It also calls for drivers to carry insurance coverage worth $50,000 for death and bodily injury per person, $100,000 for death and bodily injury per incident and $25,000 for property damage when picking up passengers. Coverage would jump to a minimum of $1 million in coverage in the case of death, bodily injury and property damage while a passenger is in the vehicle.

Representatives from Uber and Lyft applauded the vote, and now hope for a similar fate in the Florida Senate.

“Today’s vote by the Florida House of Representatives is a major step toward Florida residents and visitors having permanent access to reliable transportation options,” said Kasra Moshkani, general manager of Uber South Florida. “We are encouraged by today’s vote, and the movement of Senate Bill 340, and look forward to working toward creating a permanent home for Uber in our state.”

“Today the Florida House overwhelmingly recognized that Florida needs a single, comprehensive set of rules for ride-sharing. Lyft is grateful to Speaker Corcoran and his leadership team for their work on this issue,” said Chelsea Harrison, senior policy communications manager for Lyft. “This framework will ensure that Floridians continue to enjoy the convenient, affordable rides Lyft provides across the state. We look forward to working with the Florida Senate to advance this legislation to the Governor’s desk for his signature.”

Last year’s House bill (sponsored by Matt Gaetz) passed by 108-10 margin, but a dispute over local pre-emption proved to be a bridge too far in the Senate, and the bill died on the final day of Session.

That’s not expected to be the case this year, as there has been little opposition so far in the Legislature’s upper chamber. St. Petersburg Republican Jeff Brandes is sponsoring the Senate version (SB 340). It will be heard in the Senate Committee on Rules on Thursday, its final stop before going to the entire body.

House gets one step closer to passing statewide regs on Uber, Lyft

Legislation to regulate transportation network companies (TNC) in Florida advanced Tuesday on its second reading through the Florida House.

The bill sponsored by Palm Harbor Republican Chris Sprowls and Tampa Republican Jamie Grant (HB 221) requires ride-sharing companies to have third-parties conduct local and national criminal background checks on drivers.

“That includes a multistage, multi-jurisdictional background check, a search of the National Sex Offender website, and a review of the public driving history of the applicant,” Sprowls said on the House floor.

Although critics say that the measure should include Level II federal background check requirements, Sprowls said that database is smaller than the one that Uber and Lyft will have to use in Florida. “The National Certified Background check has up to 500 million records,” he said.

The proposal would prohibit from becoming ride-share drivers if they have three moving violations in the prior 3-year period; have been convicted of a felony within the previous five years; or have been convicted of a misdemeanor charge of sexual assault, driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol, hit and run, or attempting to flee a law enforcement officer within the past five years.

It also calls for drivers to carry insurance coverage worth $50,000 for death and bodily injury per person, $100,000 for death and bodily injury per incident and $25,000 for property damage when picking up passengers. Coverage would jump to a minimum of $1 million in coverage in the case of death, bodily injury and property damage while a passenger is in the vehicle.

Amendments proposed by Miami Beach Democrat David Richardson that would require the ride-sharing companies to have a nondiscrimination policy regarding the hiring of drivers were defeated. At one point Sprowls said that he would work to have language added to the bill that would require TNC’s to follow state law on public accommodations.

Richardson said that really wouldn’t work since gays and lesbians are not currently protected under current state law.

Sprowls did amend the bill to make it more compatible with its Senate counterpart (SB 340) sponsored by St. Petersburg Republican Jeff Brandes. Those changes include authorizing seaports to impose pickup fees on rideshare drivers when picking up or dropping riders from seaports, as long as they do not exceed what that particular port is charging taxicab companies to pay.

The bill has one more reading through to pass the House, while it will be heard in the Rules Committee in the Senate Thursday.

House, Senate move in different directions on building code reform

Bills to change the way the Florida Building Code is updated continue to move through the Legislature, but the House and Senate now appear to be taking a different approach to reforming the system.

The House Careers & Competition Subcommittee voted unanimously last week to approve legislation (HB 901) that would keep international and national building codes as the baseline for the Florida Building Codes, but would require the Florida Building Commission to update the code every five years instead of every three. However, the Senate continues to move legislation (SB 860) that would allow the state to adopt provisions of the international code, while using the most recent version of the Florida Building Code as its baseline.

That House proposal, sponsored by Rep. Stan McClain, would also dramatically reduce the size of the commission, turning the 27-member board into an 11-member board.

“To start winnowing down commission seats somewhat haphazardly, with all due respect, overnight from 27 to (11) probably isn’t the best way to address the issue,” said Lori Killinger, who represents the Florida Manufactured Housing Association, one of several groups whose representation on the commission would be eliminated.

Under McClain’s proposal, the board would no longer be required to have:

— An air conditioning or mechanical contractor;

— Two of the municipal or district code enforcement officials, including the one who is also a fire marshal;

— A representative of the Department of Financial Services

— A county code enforcement official;

— A representative of a Florida-based organization of persons with disabilities or a nationally chartered organization of persons with disabilities

— A representative of the manufactured buildings industry

— A mechanical or electrical engineer

— A representative of the building products manufacturing industry

— A representative of a municipality of charter county

— A representative of the building owners and managers’ industry, who is active in the commercial industry

— A public education representative

— A swimming pool contractor

— A representative of the green building industry;

— A representative of the natural gas distribution system;

— A representative from the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services’ Office of Energy; and

— The member who is the chair.

The bill adds an addition residential contractor to the committee, and stipulates one of the residential contractors must be one who builds an average of less than 20 custom homes a year; while the other must be a residential contractor who builds an average of more than 100 homes a year.

McClain, a Belleview Republican and state certified residential contractor, said the Florida Building Commission does have subcommittees set up, which he said thought would be the place for for people to weigh in on code changes and “having 11 (people) on the commission is the right number.”

Sara Yerkes, the senior vice president for government relations at the International Code Council, said the plan to update Florida’s code every five years instead of every three could put the state behind the times. Since it takes several years to develop the code, Yerkes said moving to a five-year cycle could put Florida “eight to nine years in the rear.”

“If Florida wants to be a leader, a five-year cycle is not going to do that,” she said.

McClain said the move to a five-year cycle would give allow for “some stability in our industry.”

“I think all we’re trying to ask for is to give a little more stability moving forward from a regulatory process,” said McClain.

The proposal cleared its first of two committee stops last week, and now heads to the House Commerce Committee. A hearing has not yet been scheduled for the bill.

Meanwhile, the Senate Regulated Industries unanimously approved its bill that would essentially flip the set of building codes the construction industry uses as its standard.

The Senate proposal removes the provision requiring the International Code be used as a baseline, and instead requires the “6th edition, and subsequent editions, of the Florida Building Code,” be used as the foundation for the development and updates to the state code. It also calls on the commission to review the Florida Building Code every three years “to consider whether it needs to be revised.”

The Senate proposal, sponsored by Sen. Jeff Brandes, maintains a 27-member building commission. His proposal also creates an internship path for building code inspector certification and would require the Florida Building Code Administrators and Building Inspectors to give provisional certificates to code inspectors and plan examiners who meet certain requirements.

Brandes’ bill now heads to the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Unless legislation is changed, Joe Redner says he’ll sue over Legislature’s medical marijuana

Advocates of Amendment 2, which legalized medical marijuana in Florida, have been expressing disdain for HB 1397, moving through the Legislature this Session, sponsored by Fort Myers Republican Ray Rodrigues.

“Folks, this bill is bad,” wrote Ben Pollara, head of United for Care, the organization that campaigned for the constitutional amendment that passed with more than 71 percent support of Floridians last fall.

“If passed, it would basically cancel out the vote we had last fall, if not make the situation worse,” Pollara added.

Specifically, Pollara and others are denouncing the bill as currently written, primarily because it bans smoking, vaporizing and eating of medical marijuana. It also requires patients recertify with the state every 90 days and compels patients to sign an “informed consent” document warning them about the dangers of marijuana use and reminding them that it is illegal federally.

In the past, Pollara said he knows organizations and individuals who may sue if the ultimate legislative product has those elements.

On Thursday, Tampa adult entrepreneur and gadfly Joe Redner confirmed he would be one of those individuals.

“We have a constitutional amendment, and I loooove the court system,” Redner said Thursday on WMNF-88.5 FM.

In the 1980s and 90s, Redner frequently battled the city of Tampa and Hillsborough County over his adult nightclubs, winning more than a million dollars in damages, according to a 2012 Deadspin report.

“I cannot wait to sue the state Legislature. Please don’t pass a good law!” he joked about the efforts of Rodrigues, who is pushing the main medical marijuana bill in the Florida House.

“There were definitely people who believed that they were voting to smoke it because those people have contacted me since we had filed that bill and expressed that sentiment,” Rodrigues recently told a Tampa radio station.

“However, I do not believe that is the majority of the people,” Rodrigues explained. “Clearly, the majority of the people believed they were voting for medical marijuana, and as long as they get the benefits from medical marijuana, the way that it is administered is irrelevant. And I would say that the science is on our side.”

Accompanying Redner at WMNF were Adam Elend and Jeff Marks, his former “Voice of Freedom” cable access show co-hosts back in the aughts.

Redner said the two had been working in Colorado on marijuana-based businesses after the state legalized pot in 2012. Redner intends to work with them on a medical marijuana-related business in Tampa.

Whether he gets that opportunity is again subject to the whims of the Legislature, which seems bent on reducing the field of companies that can grow and distribute medical pot — keeping it to seven companies statewide. However, that number could grow if the patient population does.

Of all the medical marijuana bills now floating in the Florida Legislature, only a measure from St. Petersburg Republican Jeff Brandes would open competition two more than those seven companies.

Brandes’ proposal would also let cities and counties determine how many retail facilities would be required.

During the interview, Redner admitted that despite proclamations to the contrary, Democrat Bob Buesing asked him to drop out of the four-person Senate District 18 race against Republican Dana Young last fall.

At the time, Buesing said Redner’s presence would not hurt him in his battle against Young. Young defeated Buesing by 7 percent, while the independent Redner took 9 percent.

Recently, Redner said he would not enter another race in 2018 if Buesing was again the Democratic candidate.

Redner also revealed that he had not spoken to his son, Cigar City Brewing head Joey Redner, until just recently, since Joey gave a financial contribution to Young in the Senate race.

“To me, it was my son telling me, he thought she was a better person than I was,” Redner said, adding that he is not sure he will ever get over it.

 

Cosmetics industry hopeful third time is the charm for reform bill

Cosmetic manufacturers are hopeful state lawmakers will take action this year to eliminate a policy requiring them to get approval before taking a product to market, a lengthy process that industry officials say goes above and beyond federal requirements.

The industry has been pushing for the change for several years now, but think a recent report from the Florida Legislature’s Office of Program Policy Analysis & Government Accountability bolsters their calls for change.

According to the Feb. 21 research memo, Florida is one of three states that requires premarket approval of cosmetic products. But unlike the other states with the premarket regulations, Florida cosmetic manufacturers employ more than 3,250 people and pay $124 million a year in wages.

The report also included an industry satisfaction survey, which included responses from 57 of the state’s 129 permitted cosmetic manufacturers. The survey found 46 percent of respondents said they have considered moving their manufacturing facility to another state. The three reasons for wanting to relocate were regulatory requirements, skill of workforce and tax rates.

“It’s bad policy. No. 1: It takes a long time to get approved, 90 days or longer. If you’re a nimble, dynamic cosmetic manufacturer … three months is a ridiculously long time,” said John Ray, who represents Seychelles Organics. “The other thing is, it’s expensive. It’s $30 for every main product and $15 for every difference. A company making a few hundred products, and every two years you have to renew your registration, that’s tens of thousands of dollars.”

State lawmakers have taken note of the concerns, filing legislation for the third year in a row to remove the premarket approval requirement. The bills (SB 114 and HB 211) would remove the requirements that manufacturers must register products with the Department of Business and Professional Regulation’s Division of Drugs, Devices and Cosmetics.

If approved, the cosmetics manufactured in Florida would be treated in a similar manner to those manufactured outside of Florida and distributed and sold in Florida.

The Senate proposal, sponsored by St. Petersburg Republican Sen. Jeff Brandes, has unanimously cleared its first two committees of reference. It could be heard in the Senate Appropriations Committee in the next few weeks.

And that could be where the bill hits its first snag. Despite what appears to be bipartisan support for removing the regulations, there is a fiscal impact. Brandes’ bill removes fees for cosmetic product registrations and renewals, and the fees for the issuances of certificates of free sale for these products.

According to a staff analysis prepared for the Senate General Government Appropriations Subcommittee, DBPR estimates the Senate bill will reduce annual revenue to the Drugs, Devices and Cosmetics Division account within the Professional Regulation Trust Fund by $226,141 in fiscal 2017-18. That estimate increases to $297,973 in fiscal 2018-19 and $393,072 in fiscal 2019-20.

The Senate proposal appropriates $222,564 in recurring dollars from the general revenue fund in fiscal 2017-18 to the division to offset a portion of reduced trust fund revenues.

The House bill, sponsored by Clearwater Republican Rep. Chris Latvala, removes the fee cap for cosmetic manufacturer permits, and authorizes the division to assess a “fee sufficient to cover the costs of administering the cosmetic manufacturing program,” according to a staff analysis prepared after the House Health Quality Subcommittee meeting last week. Industry officials are supportive of this approach, saying the overall reform bill would deliver significant net user-fee savings to Florida manufacturers.

Industry officials are supportive of this approach, saying the overall reform bill would deliver significant net user-fee savings to Florida manufacturers.

Latvala’s bill unanimously cleared the Health Quality Subcommittee meeting, and now heads to the Government Operations & Technology Appropriations Subcommittee.

“Nobody disagrees with the policy,” said Ray, who noted the proposal hasn’t received a “no” vote in any committee hearing over the years. “User fees shouldn’t be the reason why a dumb law is in place.”

Capitol Reax: Visit Florida funding, Uber, high-speed rail

The Senate Government Oversight and Accountability Committee voted 5-1 to approve a proposal (SB 596) that would allow telecommunications companies to put small wireless communications infrastructure in public rights-of-way.

Tom Feeney, president and CEO of Associated Industries of Florida: “AIF supports legislation to bring technology of the future to Florida, allowing our communities to be a part of the smart cities revolution.  Florida’s economic environment will greatly benefit from this good legislation, allowing new technologically advanced companies to locate here in the Sunshine State.

AIF applauds Senator (Travis) Hutson for championing this legislation and the Senate Governmental Oversight and Accountability Committee for passing this bill out of its committee today.  SB 596 will allow technology of the future, like smart cities, autonomous vehicles and instantaneous speeds, to become a reality through uniform deployment of small cell technology.”

The House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee temporarily postponed a proposal (HB 269), which would have established the Florida High Speed Passenger Rail Safety Act.

Brent Hanlon, chairman of Citizens Against Rail Expansion in Florida (CARE FL): “I want to once again thank Representatives MaryLynn Magar and Erin Grall for filing legislation this session to protect citizens from subsidizing high speed rail projects that pose risks to public safety.  We are disappointed that the subcommittee did not debate the bill today, but we respect the legislative process, and look forward to more dialogue about this important legislation in due course.

All Aboard Florida (AAF) is taking a victory lap today in its public statements, but its latest actions are nothing more than a special interest group flexing its political muscle in a desperate attempt to protect its profits which are reliant on taxpayer subsidies.

AAF continues to put the communities of South Florida on the hook for millions in upgrades to enhance safety measures and make a grab for taxpayer subsidies.

We will continue to advocate for legislation that puts public safety first and we know that our elected leaders want the same. This is nothing more than an ill-conceived rail project by a private company that wants to shift costs to the taxpayers.”

The Senate Transportation, Tourism and Economic Development Appropriations Subcommittee has proposed matching Gov. Rick Scott’s budget proposal of $76 million for Visit Florida, while setting aside $80 million for Enterprise Florida.

Chris Hudson, state director for American for Prosperity-Florida: “The Florida Senate is sending a bad message to their constituents. They are telling the hardworking small business owners that don’t even qualify for the handouts their proposing to sustain by maintaining funding to Enterprise Florida are more important than properly funding real priorities for their communities. The Senate should pick up where the Florida House left off and come together to eliminate corporate welfare by eliminating Enterprise Florida.

The Florida Senate is also wrong to fund Visit Florida with another $76 million dollars. Visit Florida’s lack of transparency and lack of accountability have engulfed the Sunshine State in national embarrassment that should not be rewarded. This failed program needs more than just reform; it should be completely eliminated.

Our grassroots teams will be deployed throughout the state in the districts of Senators who support funding corporate welfare. We will use every tool at our disposal to ensure that Floridians know which members of the legislature support corporate welfare and the programs that give away their tax dollars to private businesses instead of better supporting real priorities like education and infrastructure.”

The Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously approved a bill (SB 340) to create a regulatory framework for transportation network companies, like Uber and Lyft.

Stephanie Smith, senior manager, public policy for Uber Technologies: “Today’s unanimous vote on Senate Bill 340 by the Senate Committee on Judiciary is a positive indication that Florida lawmakers support the safety, economic, and mobility benefits that come from ridesharing services like Uber.

We are grateful to all of the Senators who voted ‘yes’ on the bill, with special thanks to Sen. Jeff Brandes (R-St. Petersburg) who continues to be a champion for modern transportation options.”

Logan McFaddin, regional manager of the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America: “PCI applauds the Senate Judiciary Committee and Senator Brandes for supporting legislation that addresses the insurance gaps when a driver is engaged in rideshare activity.  PCI and our members believe it is imperative rideshare drivers and their passengers are protected as they travel from point A to point B.

The insurance coverage concerns are significant, especially if ride share drivers use their personal vehicles for this commercial activity but only have personal auto insurance coverage. The standard personal auto insurance policy may not provide coverage if the vehicle is being used for commercial purposes and an accident were to occur.

With model legislation already passing in 45 other states, PCI encourages Florida lawmakers to do the same for Florida and protect the public.”

 

Senate Judiciary Committee gives big win for ridesharing regulation

Momentum remains strong in Tallahassee for the first bill in Florida to regulate ridesharing companies Uber and Lyft.

On Tuesday, the Senate Judiciary Committee passed the proposal (SB 340) unanimously without debate.

The bill, sponsored by St. Petersburg Republican Jeff Brandes, would require ride-sharing companies to carry $100,000 of insurance for bodily injury or death and $25,000 for property damage while a driver is logged onto their app but hasn’t secured a passenger. While with a rider, drivers would be required to have $1 million worth of coverage.

It also requires transportation network companies to have third parties conduct local and national criminal background checks on drivers.

While all indications are the bill will get through the Legislature this spring, opposition from certain groups continues.

Former state Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff, now a lobbyist for the Florida Taxi Association, said the bill would tie the hands of local governments from regulating their own communities. Bogdanoff referenced problems with “exorbitant” numbers of cars circling around Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport and Port Everglades. She said issues that had been resolved between local governments and Uber and Lyft would be removed from the books, and also acknowledged the cold hard reality of the political calculus this session.

“I realize the train has left the station, or the car has left the Port, or whatever you want to call it,” she said.

Megan Samples, with the Florida League of Cities, again called the bill a pre-emption on local governments, particularly decrying what she said would be looser background checks for ride-sharing drivers.

Rich Templin, representing the Florida AFL-CIO, testified on behalf of the Amalgamated Transit Union. He said he was hoping to draft an amendment before the next stop for the bill that would address additional safety guidelines in the bill, considering that more public transit agencies are working with Uber and Lyft on options like first-mile last mile and paratransit options. He said he was worried the Brandes bill would undue guidelines already in place.

Immediately after the bill’s passage in committee, spokespersons for Uber and Lyft immediately issued statements praising the vote.

“Lyft applauds Chairman Greg Steube and sponsor Sen. Jeff Brandes for guiding SB 340 to approval by the Senate Judiciary Committee,” said Chelsea Harrison, communications manager for Lyft.

“This is important legislation that brings Florida one step closer to a consistent statewide framework for innovative services like Lyft,” Harrison added. “Floridians want access to ridesharing, and we look forward to providing the state’s residents and visitors with a safe, reliable transportation option for many years to come.”

“Today’s unanimous vote on Senate Bill 340 by the Senate Committee on Judiciary is a positive indication that Florida lawmakers support the safety, economic, and mobility benefits that come from ridesharing services like Uber,” said Stephanie Smith, Uber’s senior manager for public policy. “We are grateful to all of the Senators who voted ‘yes’ on the bill, with special thanks to Sen. Jeff Brandes … who continues to be a champion for modern transportation options.”

During the past two sessions, the House had pushed similar bills, but the issue tangled up in the Senate, where former President Andy Gardiner wanted to address more narrow issues such as insurance requirements for ridesharing drivers. After Gardiner left office last fall, the way eased a bit in the Legislature’s upper body.

Safety Harbor Republican Chris Sprowls and Tampa Republican Jamie Grant are sponsoring the companion bill moving in the House (CS/HB 221).

Show Buttons
Hide Buttons